' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Huddle (1932)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday's Old Fashioned: Huddle (1932)

No one would ever confuse Ramon Novarro with Rudy Ruettiger. The former was a Mexican screen star, originally of the silent era before transitioning to sound, known as The Latin Lover, gay in an era when acknowledging that fact publicly could lead to considerable consequences. Ruettiger, on the other hand, immortalized in the 1993 film "Rudy" was a blocky little guy who actually looked less like Sean Astin than John Belushi. But...they were both Roman Catholic, and they had films made sixty years apart of some similarity.

Whereas "Rudy" found its title character growing up in Joliet, Illinois and working at his father's steel mill, "Huddle" finds Novarro as Tony Amatto, perhaps a fore bearer of future Miami Sharks Head Coach Tony D'Amato, growing up in Gary, Indiana (an hour's drive from Joliet) and working at his father's steel mill. Both men, of course, dream of leaving the steel furnaces behind for scholastic advancement at high-tier universities, but whereas Rudy has to struggle at a community college to be allowed entrance to uppity Notre Dame, Tony gets a scholarship to uppity Yale straight away. How? Well, it's never said, but then I imagine this is merely futuristic commentary by director Sam Wood on George W. Bush's entrance to New Haven. (Yes? No? Fox News is telling me no. MSNBC is telling me yes. I'm so confused.)


The cinematic character of Rudy, however, was rather insistently one-dimensional, never not The Guy With The Biggest Heart Ever, whose myriad of objections are never not about to be overcome with a few heapings of the Human Spirit. Tony Amatto, on the other hand, is born of a more motley complex, even if he follows a generally typical hero's journey.

Upon arrival at Yale, he is made fun of and looked down upon, for his upbringing and his corny straw hat from the sticks. Why you can practically hear a 1932 set of twins chiding him for not being a "Man of Yale." Not to worry, though, because once Tony discovers the sport of football and finds a significant aptitude for it, all this will change. Because that's how these things work. Because college football worships its heroes (guilty as charged, your honor) and because colleges take advantage of those heroes. Arguably the film's best exchange, satire disguised as comedy, features Tony's Dad asking his son of the college and its team: "How much do they pay you?" Tony replies: "They don't pay you anything. You just owe it to the school."

It called to mind one of my all-time favorite college football heroes, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback of my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers, Eric Crouch, and The Great Plane & Ham Sandwich Caper which found Crouch having to cut a check of $22.77 out of his own bank account lest he run afoul of the NCAA. Nothing's free in college, boy, and no you don't get a cut of the proceeds of the jersey with your number I and many, many others wear every Saturday.

The better Tony performs on the field, the bigger a head he gets off of it, and when the daughter, Rosalie (Madge Evans), of the owner of the steel mill where his father works rejects him, he gets soused and is nearly caught by Coach Gale (Ralph Graves). Caught being drunk in public! I'm not saying public drunkenness is a detail to be overlooked, not at all, but that compared to modern day college football problems (see: Jameis Winston), this one seems positively square. But then, being hungover the day of a game is never good, and so Tony goes straight Tommy Lewis and is sent off the field by Coach and when Tony goes to Coach to confront him, they get into a fistfight.

Yes. A fistfight. Is this how all problems between Coach and Star Player were resolved in 1932? Would Coach Gale dismiss all modern day players as pampered for being unable to take an uppercut from the head man in charge? Will footage be leaked on Youtube of Nick Saban and A.J. McCarron getting into a fistfight because "Katherine Webb has become too much of a distraction"? But hey, why quibble with strategy that works? The fisticuffs get Tony to man up and take charge of his affairs and ultimately pledge devotion not just to Rosalie - who ultimately pledges devotion to him in spite of her meanie father because of course she does - but to the Yalies themselves. And therein lies the difference between "Huddle" and "Rudy."

Look, "Rudy" is mostly just well-scored caramel sauce, but what it also goes to show is that the individual is just as important - if not more so - than the institution. The South Bend-set business - er, place of higher learning - attempts to foil Rudy at every turn, but Rudy triumphs to show that he is as good as it. Tony Amatto, however, ultimately decides to play in the all-important Yale vs. Harvard an game with an appendicitis to show how his school spirit trumps even his own health.

The film ends not with images of Tony being carried off the field but with stock footage of the Yale campus and its architecturally glorious buildings. No man is greater than the institution.

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